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Sonny Terry (1911-1986)

Sonny Terry

An original whose work could make a stone shed tears

Saunders Terrell, better known as Sonny Terry (24 October 1911, Greensboro, North Carolina - 11 March 1986, Mineola, New York was a blind blues musician. He was most widely known for his energetic blues harmonica style, which frequently included vocal whoops and hollers, and imitations of trains and fox hunts. His father, a farmer, taught him to play basic blues harp as a youth. He sustained injuries to his eyes and lost his sight by the time he was 16, which prevented him from doing farm work himself. In order to earn a living Terry was forced to play music. He began playing in Shelby, North Carolina. After his father died he began playing along with Piedmont-style guitarist Blind Boy Fuller. When Blind Boy Fuller died, he established a long-standing musical relationship with Brownie McGhee, and the pair recorded numerous tracks together. The duo became well-known, even among white audiences, as they joined the growing folk movement of the 1950s and 1960s. This included collaborations with Woody Guthrie and Moses Asch, producing Folkways Records classic recordings. In 1938 Terry was invited to play at Carnegie Hall for the first From Spirituals to Swing concert, and later that year he recorded for the Library of Congress. In 1940 Terry recorded his first commercial sides. Despite their fame as "pure" folk artists, in the 1940s, Terry and Brownie McGhee fronted a jump blues combo with honking saxophone that was variously called Brownie McGhee and his Jook House Rockers or Sonny Terry and his Buckshot Five. Terry was also in the 1947 original cast of the Broadway musical comedy, Finian's Rainbow. Terry's song Fox Chase was used by the experimental filmmaker Len Lye as the soundtrack for his short film, i>Color Cry (1952). Old Lost John was used by Werner Herzog at the conclusion of his 1977 feature film, Stroszek. More recently Terry's track Whoopin' The Blues was used for a EON Wind Farm brand commercial. Terry died in 1986, the year he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. (quoted from

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